Speaking360º Free Content

Offering kindness to strangers

Nov 16, 2016
About 10 years ago and I was on a train leaving London that was very busy. It was difficult to find a seat but after walking through a few carriages I found two seats together by the window - a double seat! I very selfishly sat down in the outside seat hoping that no one would then ask to sit by the window, so I'd have both seats to myself.

I took out my book and started reading.

'Excuse me, can I sit in there?' a curt voice said above me almost immediately.

'Of course!' I said. Then as I looked up I realised it was 'Fish', an old friend that I hadn't seen for a about 5 years.

'I'll scoot over by the window' I said, 'and you can sit here.'

He sat down next to me and we began catching up. It was about 25 minutes to our stop and so we raced through all the usual topics of catchup for the first part of the train journey.

About 10 minutes in, a tall lady with dark hair and glasses squeezed passed a procession of people standing in the aisle and stopped above Fish. 'Excuse me!' she barked.

We were in full flow by stopped abruptly and both looked up.

'Don't you think you should offer your seats to that elderly couple over there?'

We looked in the direction that she was pointing, but there were so many people standing in the way, we couldn't see what she was pointing at.

'Where?' Fish said half irritated.

'There!' she said.

We peered through all the bodies and about 10 yards away in the middle of the carriage was an elderly couple standing in the aisle holding on to the handle above two other seats that had people sitting in them. Immediately around them were 12 people, 6 on either side of the aisle, all sitting in seats far closer to them than us. In the row behind them there were another 12 people sitting in seats. And between us and them there were more 3 rows of 6 people, all sitting down in seats.

The way she asked the question made it very obvious that she felt we were being rude and inconsiderate in a socially unacceptable way not to offer our seats.

'Alright then' Fish shrugged, 'go on then.' And he gestured for her to go and ask them.

'They not my seats to offer' she said, 'you go and offer them the seats!'

We looked at each other a bit perplexed. People had stopped and were looking to see what was happening and the elderly lady looked over.

'Would you like to sit down?' Fish shouted across to the lady.

'Oh .. err .. ok!' The elderly couple looked at each other a bit sheepishly and then squeezed passed the people in the aisles to get to our seats. 'Thank you' they both said as they sat down. And we carried on our conversation standing up for the remainder of the journey.

It was such a bizarre experience. There were probably 40 people in seats between us and the elderly couple, yet this lady decided that we were her target.

And why had she waited 10 minutes before asking us? I wonder what was going through her head for those 10 minutes?

Don't get me wrong, had they been standing by us we would have certainly offered them our seats, no question. If we'd seen them further away one of us probably still would have pointed to our seat and clearly mouthed the words do you want a seat?

But they were miles away!

Some people take on the most unnecessary crusades and make them very personal don't they? When does an earnest desire to be a contributing member of society turn into 'do-gooder-ism'?  Sage advice from Jim Rohn who says 'I’ve discovered that you can’t change people. They can change themselves.'  I don't want or need to change you because I'm responsible for me, and you're responsible for you: simple!
Or there's another quote that goes: 

'Don't try and change people. Just love them. Love is what changes us.' 
(us, not necessarily them!!)

Funnily enough, a few weeks later I got off of a train and the crowds moved in baby steps towards the stairs. As I got to the stairs there was an elderly lady struggling with a large suitcase. She was in the way and looked flustered.

'Can I help you with this?' I said (loud and proud!) And I picked it up for her.

'No thank you' she snapped, 'I'm not dead yet .. I can manage just fine!'

I didn't think she was dead .. I was just trying to be kind!

People are funny aren't they?  Sometimes you can't win, and that's ok!!!  Love will always prevail, whatever the response!
Until next time .. 

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